On the Nature of the Universe

On the Nature of the Universe

On the Nature of the Universe

On the Nature of the Universe

Excerpt

If you woke up one morning to discover that some miracle had transported you to Athens in the early years of the third century B.C., you would find yourself in a social and spiritual atmosphere not altogether unfamiliar. The political ideals of the city-state -- liberty, democracy, national self-sufficiency -- had lost their appeal in a world dominated by large-scale despotisms and shaken by economic crises and social unrest. The old gods retained their temples and their sacrifices, but had ceased to inspire a living faith. The master minds of the preceding century, Plato and Aristotle, seemed to have no message for the rising generation -- no medicine for the prevailing mood of disillusionment, scepticism, and fatalism.

In this setting, if you are one of those who believe that civilization with all its conventional values has been debunked, you would find congenial company among the followers of Diogenes the Cynic, whose simple and self-centred life in the tub had demonstrated how many valued assets of mind and body it is possible to do without. If you are a puzzled seeker after the Unknown God, you would find yourself no less at home among the Stoics, the devout company who gathered in the Painted Portico to hear that impassioned prophet Zeno of Cyprus proclaim his doctrine of submission to an all-wise Providence. And, if you are by temperament a rationalist, ready to welcome the assurance that modern science has disposed, once and for all, of the fairy-tales that pleased our grandparents and the bogeys that frightened them, then sooner or later you would find your way to that peaceful garden where Epicurus preached his gospel of salvation by common sense.

The Epicurean gospel was spread by zealous missionaries throughout the Greek world, and a century or so after the Master's death it was preached within the walls of all-conquering Rome . . .

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